Public health and environmental leaders provide latest update on Chemtool explosion

Evacuation mandate is extended by one more night. Waterways contain no toxins. Air quality remains stable.
Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 7:09 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - The evacuation order stands for Rockton residents who live a mile from the Chemtool fire site, as the last of the flames flicker out. First responders, and public health and environmental leaders said it’s extended at least another 24 hours because air quality isn’t quite safe yet.

However, the air quality is stable enough to lift the mask mandate for anyone who lives within a 2-3 mile radius of Chemtool Inc.

The first update arrived early Wednesday morning. The Environmental Protection Agency said low levels of hydrogen cyanide are still in the air, but it does not exceed safety limits. Waterways are not contaminated, and air quality remains stable.

The evacuation stands because of dust, ash and soot from the fire still lingers and lands on various things. Winnebago County Public Health Administrator, Dr. Sandra Martell, said they are teaming up with the Bureau of Land Management to pursue rapid testing.

“So that we can get reads from different parts of that area, from the perimeters, the insides, to rooftops, to ground level, to doorknobs, to playground equipment,” said Martell. “All of that is important for the team to sample.”

The tests experts perform all throughout Rockton will determine when evacuees can return home.

Fire suppression efforts continue. Firefighters said we will likely continue to see smoke as long as the next week, as the building smolders out.

Leaders said they still have plans to continue with Old Settlers Day, which starts Thursday, June 17. In order for the event to happen, however, the evacuation mandate has to lift.

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